By Kathleen McKevitt – Special to the Pahrump Valley Times
Entrepreneurs offer a variety of goods and services here. There are artisans making bath products, jewelry and wearable art. Farmers are growing produce, raising chickens and goats, and participating in any number of other ventures hoping to make a living from what they can offer outside the workplace.
The battle cry from all those adventuresome souls is “Please support local family businesses.”
They know local residents drive to Las Vegas for shopping in multi-million dollar corporate stores, and lament the need to take their products there, too.
They wish there was an organization to help them market locally. Regardless, most of them show up every Saturday, rain, sleet, wind or heat, to sell what they make or raise at the local Farmer’s Market.
“It’s not enough to support us,” said Meili Ou, co-owner of O U Nuts, a 26-acre pistachio farm here. Ou and her husband, Ron Thaxton, started their orchard with a few trees in 1998, and today have 1900 fully-grown, nut-producing trees.
No bees need apply, according to Thaxton. The trees are self-pollenating; male and female trees are planted next to each other.
All 1900 trees have to be harvested, trimmed and nuts bagged and salted each year. They do use automated equipment. The pistachio shaker is similar to any kind of field harvester. Made for nuts, the shaker grabs hold of the tree and shakes it to relieve it of the nuts. They fall into a catcher, and from there are rolled into a conveyer belt on another machine that also fans off the leaves. Those nuts are deposited in a bin.
What falls on the ground isn’t wasted, considering one raven can eat over 50 pounds of nuts.
Of the 36,000 pounds of organic nuts harvested, around 7,200 are actually available to sell. Many are not acceptable; if the nuts don’t “crack” properly, for instance. Ou said the ripe nuts split open on their own — not from roasting.
Ou believes the ravens, which bring captured golf balls from surrounding courses, bring them and drop them on her property to “mark their territory.”
Nuts are harvested in October, and processed in Amargosa Valley. Marketing Saturdays at the Farmer’s Market and selling nuts at their farm have been supplemented by sales to various restaurants and other points in Las Vegas. Ou and Thaxton said, “We hope more people will support local businesses first. Everything we raise and sell is in the same year it was grown. Not like big super-stores that carry over nuts and candies for years and are not organic.”
While the Thaxtons had their worst years in 2011 and 2012, due to excessive cold, Carmen Andy and his son Brian Andy, said those “were our best years, so far.”
The Andys have a hydroponic tomato farm here. Before joinng his father, Brian Andy had managed an organic greenhouse operation on the island of Kauai, Hawaii and returned to help the family design and build their first greenhouse which supports 650 organic tomato plants, and has room for 807.
They will show a profit for the first time this year after three years in investment and building.
According to Carmen Andy, “Everything in the operation is fully and certified organic, including materials for heating and cooling, water and movement of it, planting medium, feeding and seed. Plants are in a now-preferred coconut medium and fed constantly through cycled water from sun-up to sun-down.”
Brian Andy defines himself as a fanatic when it comes to ensuring integrity of the plant environment. He said, “No bugs allowed. That’s animal life of any kind, including me and family, and suits for some visitors are required to ensure no one brings infestation into the greenhouse.”
New hydroponic farming equipment is available to replace bees for pollinating. One tool is called a Petal Tickler that Brian Andy describes as “one of the great new inventions for hydroponic farming.” He said, “It pollinates greenhouse tomatoes with a tip that oscillates at 90 cycles per second, and shakes the loose pollen to help ensure better fruit.”
Both men agree having more of a local market would be a great support. Like O U Nuts, they take their fruit to market in Las Vegas, and supply restaurants there.
Why not sell directly to organic corporate businesses in Las Vegas? Carmen Andy said, “Because they buy too low, and sell too high, and the local grower doesn’t profit.”
Oak Lane Herb Farm is all about fresh organic eggs and chickens and green produce.
Owners Alan and Judie Lane call themselves “market gardeners,” and are certified to raise chickens and eggs. Judie Lane said their chickens and eggs are organic and certified and, “Raised on the best feed there is. Same with the market garden: best soil, fertilizer, water and environment.”
The Lanes have 49 chickens: Sexlinks, New Hampshire Rhoadys, Bardrocks, and Black Austolots. They sell eggs from their Pahrump farm and at the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.
They, too, have marketing to handle in Las Vegas and are not available on Thursdays.
Alan Lane is the produce farmer and raises spinach, savoy cabbage, garlic, onions, beets and carrots. He grows Nevada lettuce (meaning varieties that thrive in heat and cold extremes), heirloom tomatoes, bok choy, radishes, several different herbs, bush beans, squash, artichokes, eggplant and melons.
The Lanes, like the Andys and the Thaxtons, hope for a local coalition of market farmers to begin to join forces to create a local selling venue open all week, and that local people will support.
While robots and drones, climate change and the sense of an unsafe world seems to occupy discussions of the future, rural small farms and farm families find new ways to grow and harvest in a cleaner, healthier and easier way to bring organic foods to people at good prices. “Hard work,” said Judie Lane, “And a strong desire to bring good foods to good people is our goal.”